The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Some bits and pieces

Thursday 4 January 2007 at 11:38 pm

Here’s a few things that didn’t make it into a full post, as I’d hoped:

  • In the week before Christmas, the Federal Court ruled that it’s illegal to so much as link to copyright-infringing MP3s … while I can see the logic behind the judgement, it strikes me as yet more proof of how out of touch our copyright laws are with modern technology.
  • John Howard’s pronouncement from just before the new year, conflating feminism with the desire to get rich through working, and claiming that women in this country have “moved on” from it, hardly surprises me given the ideas he seems to foster about Australian society. Then again (as the lefty crew have widely noted) maybe it just complements Mr. Abbot’s stance on Centacare being part of the contract for a pregnancy advice line. The thing is, Howard is a champion of the game of appealing to his biggest block of supporters, and in that context he’s exactly right. If you’re a couple in a mortgage-belt suburb with two kids, you’re more likely to care about petrol prices and baby-bonus handouts than traditional equality issues like the distribution of household labour or the existence of boys’ clubs among corporate leaders. Together with the fact that feminism’s public image ain’t that great (the last point in this post was a joke, but the issue is real) and the fact that the most obvious battles (e.g. access to education) have been won, I can see what would make people agree with him.
  • This is gold, and reminds me oh so much of the rule of thumb that in Australia, “referendum” is a synonym for “no”.
  • It surprises me to learn how many factors prevent universities from being able to decide how many students they have (contrary to Brendan Nelson’s old goal of campuses with different specialties). Thus, for once I find myself agreeing with UWA’s vice-chancellor about university funding.
  • It shames me to admit that I’m a little sad to hear the news that The O.C. is to be cancelled. In my defence, I point out that Ben McKenzie does have a degree in international politics …!
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Some goings-on in Canberra

Monday 4 December 2006 at 5:22 pm

Via PerthNorg: only a few hours after Kevin Rudd won the Federal Labor leadership, the Liberals put out a Flash animation taking a dig at him.

Elsewhere in Federal politics, it sickens me that the Attorney-General is all self-congratulatory in a piece in the Daily Telegraph last week about the copyright reforms that were just passed by the Senate. Never mind the fact that the changes introduce new ways for content cartels (music companies, et al.) to screw consumers around, or that it’s just a patch-up job that will quickly become obsolete again — all must be well because there’s a new clause for comedians!

The amendment act (introduced a few months ago) was changed just before the vote, and Kim Weatherall offered up a thoughtful assessment:

Yes, despite the rising chorus of concern about the criminal provisions; despite the complete absence of any serious consultation process prior to these laws being released, they’ve done only a token amount to assuage people’s concerns here. They’ve removed the provisions that people were carrying on about the most – the ones that most directly affected ordinary consumers.

An example of the stupidity in the changes: they clarify a new section designed to make sure that “caching by educational institutions for efficiency purposes (proxy caching) does not infringe copyright”. This is a positive step in that it formally legalises a common practice (just like the ‘iPod exception’) but it’s also quite bizarre. The overwhelming bulk of caching is done by ISPs and by software on people’s computers, not by universities. And while the legal status of caching in this country has, to my knowledge, never been clarified, the authorities have seemed happy to accept it as a technical factor that can be ignored.

There’s an existing section that says temporary storage for the lifetime of a request is fine, which sets a precedent for the law’s spirit (if not its letter). So really, the new text should have replaced that section and made it clear that anyone’s caches can last as long as needed, or else they shouldn’t have bothered. I dare say that the section was thrown in so it can be pointed to while saying “look! we’re helping universities with these changes!”

On that note: if, as their marketing firm clearly wants, the Lib’s Flash animation were to turn into a viral promotion (which I don’t see happening, so I have no qualms linking to it ;-) ), it’d be copied. Things like screengrabs would start popping up on YouTube, people would hotlink the .swf file from various places, and desktop/phone backgrounds would be produced from the images. Naturally, none of this will be legal under the new copyright laws.

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The gutless way to change copyright

Sunday 14 May 2006 at 9:37 pm

Some months ago, I posted about proposed changes to copyright law that would have made life much less painful for anyone using copyrighted material in this country. I only just found out that the Attorney-General today announced legal changes as a result of that review; there’s an excellent (and detailed) summary over at LawFont.

The good news: we will finally have law that makes format-shifting legal.

The bad news: the AG chickened out. The amendment allows format-shifting and time-shifting, and provides new exceptions for libraries, schools, and people with disabilities — but beyond that, there’s nothing to help shift the balance of copyright back towards consumers and away from owners.

What’s being done is little more than the bare minimum changes proposed in the original Issues Paper! Never mind the fact that most of the submissions were strongly in favour of big changes, with widespread calls for a broad ‘fair use’ doctrine.

The opportunity for some real reform of copyright law has been blown, and instead we’ve got an amendment that panders to the big businesses who said “the sky will fall down if you allow fair use!”. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, but this is very, very disappointing.


Why copyright levies suck

Tuesday 28 February 2006 at 9:42 pm

An interesting copyright-related story: a few months ago, when the federal Attorney-General was calling for submissions for a review of ‘fair use’ in Australian copyright law, one of the options presented was the introduction of a levy on blank media aimed at compensating copyright owners for illegal copies made with those media. Fortunately, very few of the submissions supported that idea (and indeed, most called for wide ‘fair use’ rights).

Over in Canada, they have exactly such a levy, but it turns out that its value hasn’t changed much in the last few years despite big drops in blank media costs. So, Canadians are often paying ridiculous amounts for blank CDs, with the levy being about A$0.25 each. The words ‘record company cash cow’ come to mind.

I really, really hope the AG’s department listens to the submissions and doesn’t try doing that here.

And now for something completely different: I’d always thought that all Perth train drivers were slightly balding men in their 50s who love nothing more than disrupting thousands of travellers every now and again with a middle-of-day strike. However, looking at some charity promo photos that appeared today, clearly I was wrong.

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